Sometimes it Can Still Hurt to Be Alive, But I’ll Make it Through. I will. I am Jane.

By: Erica Burns

I started catching on to the benefits weed could have on my life back in the fall of 2019 when I was encouraged by a friend and fellow creative to purchase my own from a local dispensary. Before this point, I recall weed helped push me to really sit down and focus on completing my acting reel that I had been putting off for the longest time. However, in the fall of 2019, I really was able to take the initiative to focus on what I wanted most out of life and not be afraid to put myself out there accordingly. During this time, I received two of my three Union talent vouchers for becoming SAG eligible.

I also starred in an American Film Institute short film. I was on sets regularly, hungry for the chance to really break into the industry by being proactive, as opposed to relying solely on my talent rep like before. I don’t want to give weed ALL the credit here. Perhaps it was just fine timing that all of these things were happening for me at the same time I started smoking regularly, but I definitely feel that the weed helped smooth out the flow to help keep me motivated and focused outward as opposed to inward.

It felt good to be getting out of my head and putting myself out there, especially on Halloween night, when I blew off going to West Hollywood to get drunk with friends in a mob in order to perform as background talent in an upcoming series, The Stranger.

Unfortunately, at the end of 2019, my past caught up to me. While the weed had helped me to get my head in the creative game a lot better and work with the blessings flowing into my life, there were several years to account for in which I had abused alcohol at times and fallen behind as a result. I panicked, realizing that I was struggling to properly sustain the dream. Weed could only do so much and at this time, I really couldn’t afford any more of it unless I was willing to risk going broke. The week leading into the shooting of a short I wrote and produced about the squalor of LA Living for many, including myself, but done in a comedic fashion, I broke down over the squalor I was truly living in all seriousness.

I had been living in a tiny 250 square foot shoebox for the past three and a half years since living out in LA, most of the time without a car and where I was working a minimum wage, dead-end, albeit flexible and walkable, call center job that I had stayed at and grown dependent on for far longer than I should have. My friend, who bailed me out of that living situation by letting me come and stay on her futon while saving up to more than likely move back home, as I was breaking down psychologically and struggling to properly take care of myself, told me that I had been on a road to nowhere slowly. I heard her.

When I moved in with my friend in January of 2020, I did not have weed to smoke on a regular basis like before. I sobered up to my reality of being almost 28 years old and living on my friend’s futon. I was clearly not able to properly take care of myself. It was absolutely horrifying. I could no longer walk to work. Instead, I had to commute over an hour each way by public transit. I was slowly awakening to my reality and the road I had paved for myself, which was far from ideal. I was having panic attacks every day and barely sleeping for nights on end. One of my coworkers pointed out that the commute to and from every day was killing me and suggested single room housing on Skid Row. It was clear to me that I was living in poverty. It made me suicidal, to the point where one afternoon I snuck up to the rooftop of the high-rise building where I worked and contemplated jumping off.

Truthfully, I don’t know how much longer I could have lasted living like that. It was killing me and the pronounced dark circles and crow’s feet I have under my eyes show it. Then, COVID happened. While it was nice to not have to make that insane commute, it also exacerbated a lot of the brutal hindsight I was already experiencing by giving me all the more time to ruminate over my mistakes. As I was on the cusp of deciding whether or not to move back in with my parents, I had a mental breakdown and ended up in a psych ward on a 51/50. In that psych ward, I was sexually harassed and at one point, assaulted, which led to even more trauma and psychological disturbance than I had come into the psych ward with

Two months later, after having moved back in with my parents and established a sort of routine for myself via the studying of medical coding, I attempted suicide. I had been planning to take a bottle of Restoril even before moving home, but after my friend had helped coach me out of it over the phone by having me flush them down the toilet, I turned to two bottles of aspirin instead. Five minutes after taking them, though, I told my mom what I had just done and had her take me to the ER. I spent hours in the ER and ICU terrified for my life. I cried out to God to please not let me die.

“The truth is I didn’t want to die. I was just too afraid to live.”

From the hospital, I was transported directly to the neighboring psych ward, where I spent nine nights. It was at this psych ward that I was able to be stabilized enough to go home to my parents in absolute devastation and defeat, as though my moving home itself hadn’t already been devastating enough. Only this time, I couldn’t kill myself.

I enrolled in an intensive outpatient program soon after being discharged from the psych ward. It was here that I began to get to the root of my trauma, which I realized, as I broke down one session, had a lot to do with being forced to take boys’ phys ed my high school freshman year and undress with guys. The trauma of which I had been expected to keep in and not properly let out for all of these years. After IOP, I managed to get prescribed a low dosage of Adderall, which I thought might help me concentrate better on medical coding I had seriously dropped the ball on and couldn’t seem to understand following my suicide attempt. People still had expectations for me, but I just couldn’t deliver.

The trauma of which I had been expected to keep in and not properly let out for all of these years. After IOP, I managed to get prescribed a low dosage of Adderall, which I thought might help me concentrate better on medical coding I had seriously dropped the ball on and couldn’t seem to understand following my suicide attempt. People still had expectations for me, but I just couldn’t deliver.

The Adderall did help me pep on through the electrolysis sessions I had in preparation for the gender reassignment surgery I was planning to undergo in February, but it only seemed to be doing so much in terms of helping me to type up my memoir I’d been working on since 2011. My memoir should have been done well before now, but I’d turned to alcohol to cope, not realizing at the time how much devastation there could truly be. I was blessed to be getting unemployment due to the pandemic and therefore all the time in the world to finally finish writing this memoir. I had no intentions to drink to cope with the weight of what I was writing this time. When Adderall didn’t fully work in helping me to write, I decided I would try out medical marijuana, since at least that had been legalized in my only somewhat progressive home state of Maryland. Thank God medical marijuana was legal, too, because, between the use of this and a change of environment by writing out my memoir at my grandma’s (it had become too triggering/too shameful of a thing to be writing it at my parents’), I was able to get it done. It was also a miracle that the three black journals that originally contained my memoir were just about the only three journals not lost when being shipped back to me. Perhaps this had been God’s way of telling me to get down to business and finish what I had started.

“Finally, I have.”

It was difficult having to quit smoking weed the two weeks before and after my gender reassignment surgery, especially after being over a year sober and not having alcohol to cope, but I got through it. It was nice to pick it back up again. It helped my mood so much; and unlike alcohol, which had just allowed me to keep everything in, the weed helped me to put everything out in a constructive sort of way. I have since made a plethora of TikTok videos and YouTube videos, along with helping a fellow creative revise his horror script.

Weed has helped me to function through all of this craziness. It has helped keep me from returning to the psych ward. Not to say there aren’t times where I feel the absolute need to go back and escape from the world again and the pressing inevitability of growing up and moving on, which I am terrified of doing.

I know it will be okay, though. It has to be. Just one day at a time for now.

There are moments where I wish I could die and not have to live this difficult life on life’s terms, but if I died, I wouldn’t be able to publish my memoir and see it hopefully help others. I have to tough it out and be alive for that. Sometimes it can still hurt to be alive, but I will make it through. I will. I am Jane.

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